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Tanya concentrated very hard on not hyperventilating as Roman gave instructions to their security driver. Her over the top stress levels were the only excuse she could give herself for not realizing what those instructions were until the Rover was facing the other direction.
“What are we doing? The village is that way.” She pointed out the back window, the exact opposite way from the one the Rover was now headed.
Roman gave her a look that doubted her intelligence. “And that road block may not be the only one between here and there. We’re not risking getting pulled over again.”
It was the same look her parents gave her when she told them she was joining the Peace Corps and then again later when she told them she was returning to Africa.
“This is the first time this has ever happened to me.” Though not the first time she’d ever heard of such a thing, or worse, happening to others. “I’m sure it’s an isolated incident. Besides, you did your super soldier mojo with that phone call and got them to back down. You could do it again. We can’t miss our trip to the village.”
“You can and you will.” His expression was so intense, it was almost scary. "We can't rely on my super soldier mojo to work a second time."
“Look, Tanya, you might be willing to risk another brush with power hungry soldiers, but I’m not,” the intern said, interrupting her.
She glared at him, but her lower lip trembled infinitesimally. “Risk is part and parcel of what we do.”
She was hiding her fear behind bravado. In her mind, they had to continue on to keep things sane, to keep them the same. He'd seen it before with soldiers facing combat.
He wasn't going to give in, but he understood why she was being so unreasonable.
“But we don’t have to be stupid about it,” the other medical worker said impatiently.
“I’m not stupid.”
“No, you are not,” Roman said firmly, giving the intern a look that had the younger man facing front in a hurry. Roman laid his hand over one of Tanya's clenched fists. “Which is why you are going to stop arguing about this. Those soldiers had a hard-on for you, and I don’t mean the ones in their jockey shorts.”
“That’s ridiculous. I was just part of the car.”
“Well, they didn’t start demanding searches, strip or otherwise until they saw your paperwork,” he pointed out, watching her closely as if expecting something.
She felt the blood drain from her face as her throat constricted, making it hard to breathe. “I...”
“What?” he demanded with an air of expectation she did not understand.
“Wouldn’t what, Tanya?”
“Rape me,” she whispered, sick to her stomach. But the possibility was all too real. How many horror stories had she heard, and not old ones?
Some soldiers believed their uniforms gave them power over life, death and any woman’s body they wanted to use.
Roman’s expression turned deadly. “No one is going to rape you while I’m here.”
“There were four of them and only one of you.”
He gave her a look that said, “So?” and she almost smiled, but she couldn’t quite make her facial muscles work that direction. And it wasn't as if his attitude was unjustified. He'd gotten the drop on the soldiers and incapacitated them so quickly she hadn't even realized what was happening until three of the men were on the ground and their security driver was praising Roman's machismo in Shona.
“Sometimes, your arrogance is borderline comforting.” She bit her lip, not really regretting admitting that but feeling even more vulnerable with the knowledge.
“It’s only arrogance when the confidence isn’t justified. Mine is.”
“Who are you that your boss has influence over the Zimbabwean army?”
A strange expression flitted over his features before he shrugged. “Believe it, or not, Uncle Sam has influence in a lot of places you wouldn’t expect.”
And then she remembered his assertion that the roadblock had not been sanctioned by the military powers that be. “I still don’t—“
“Don’t overanalyze it. You’re specialty is saving people, mine is protecting our country’s interests. Let’s leave it at that.”
“Does protecting U.S. interests include protecting its citizens?” She couldn't believe that was the case, but she certainly wouldn't mind if he'd taken a personal interest in her safety.
“In your case it does.”
Warmth suffused her as the implications of his statement sank in. He wanted to protect her. Coupled with his behavior in the car before they came on the roadblock, indications were good that her aching attraction wasn't in fact one sided. She almost smiled. “That’s good to know.”
“I’m glad you think so.”
She took a deep breath and let it out, trying again for a smile and almost making it. She should not be so freaked. After all, nothing had actually happened to her, but that didn't seem to count for much with her emotional equilibrium. She forced the fear aside and said, “I think you’re flirting again.”
“Maybe I am.”
"Good, because I'm definitely flirting."
She felt her face twist in a grimace as a thought occurred to her. “Fleur is going to be angry.”
“That we ran into a roadblock?”
“That I insisted on going to Kimambizi when Sympa-Med wanted me to go to Tikikima.”
“And the trip ended up wasted.”
“Is she really that unreasonable?”
“She’s pragmatic. Fleur thinks I’m an idealist, and a somewhat naïve one at that. She doesn’t like it when I buck the system.”
“She doesn’t strike me as a traditionalist.”
“It’s that pragmatism. Sympa-Med makes it possible for us to do what we do. She doesn’t want to alienate them.”
“It is, just sometimes, they’re wrong.”
He laughed and Tanya felt the sound all the way through her. “You have a wonderful laugh.”
“And you are an idealist.”
“That’s not a bad thing.”
“No, but I think you and Dr. Andikan are probably a good balance for each other.”
Tanya felt a real smile curve her lips. “We are. She’s a good friend.”
“I’m sure she feels the same.”
“More than I realized, considering what Ben said she writes about me on her blog.”
Roman frowned at the mention of the other man.
She found that curious. “Don’t you like Ben?”
“He’s an unknown quantity.”
“I thought he was just a government bureaucrat?” she mocked.
“I’m not saying he’s anything else. I’m simply saying he seems to have hidden depths.” And Roman really did not sound happy about that fact, or maybe it was the fact he’d admitted it to her that bugged him so much. He looked a little surprised by his own words.